SS No. 66 | Haydn: Symphony No. 94, “Surprise”

by Glenn on November 8, 2018

Franz Joseph Haydn | Symphony No. 94 in G Major, “Surprise”

Adagio—Vivace assai
Menuet: Allegro molto
Allegro di molto

The main surprise comes in the second movement, with that pretty good-sized bang. Of course, after you’ve heard it, it’s no longer a surprise, but that moment and this symphony always seem to delight.

Haydn’s music is so refreshingly upbeat and cheerful.

Michael Steinberg maintains that this symphony is not about a single surprise, but is

“full of surprises at every kind. The very beginning, a soft cantabile of woodwinds, unprepared by any sort of call to attention, is absolutely original. Strings continue the phrase—another surprise: one doesn’t expect a change of color so soon—and when the dialogue offers to repeat itself, the strings let it be known that they have things to say too serious, too dark, too mysterious for flute and oboes and bassoons.”

Every movement has moments which can be called surprises. The highlights of this symphony for me are the interior movements. The theme and variations of the second are wonderfully inventive and I love the rustic quality of the minuet.

I’ve listened to a number of performances over the years and over the last few months. The latest was by Adam Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra. I appreciate this recording for just the right amount of resonance in the room.

*   *   *

I haven’t listened deliberately to a lot of classical music lately. My attention has been elsewhere. But two recordings I’ve heard in the last week are worth celebrating. first is Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony performed by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker. I was up early this morning and for some reason was drawn to this piece. I’ve reviewed it previously as part of this symphony study. Sibelius is such a contrast to Mahler, who wanted to say so many things in such an expressive way. This symphony is beautifully minimalistic but has such a lovely effect. It is emotional without being over the top.

The other recording to comment on briefly is Julia Fischer’s recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

I listened to it. And then I had to go back and listen to it again. This was exceptional. Where do you start?

The orchestra is beautifully balanced and blended with lovely warmth in the strings. They accompany superbly and play so musically and precisely even as their approach somehow favors lines of music over a metronomic pulse within the music. (I hope that is a real thing and makes sense.)

Fischer makes it sound effortless. Her tone is gorgeous and her articulation and intonation are flawless. And some of those moments in the finale that are so fast that the playing can sound a bit abrasive, here are played with real refinement and grace. While she offers some unique interpretive moments, particularly in the cadenzas, it doesn’t feel like it’s unique for the sake of being unique. Rather, it demonstrates a deep understanding of the music.

I just loved this. This was the piece that made me fall in love with classical music and while I’ve been partial over the years to that first performance I heard featuring Itzhak Perlman with the Philadelphia Orchestra/Ormandy, I have to say this performance easily outdoes that one. Perhaps my new favorite?